During the reading of some of my Sociological articles (most specifically those authored by Emile Durkheim), I began thinking of a moral quandary.  What is a valid reason (as atheists) to prevent suicide?

Christians believe in some type of hell or another; thus eternal torture.  Pagans believe in reincarnation; thus the return to the state the suicidal is attempting to leave.

What compelling reason do Atheists give to the suicidal to prevent this act?  Do we believe there is nothing to prevent it? Is it considered o.k. to do it?  Do we offer the suicidal the weapon of choice and politely say, “What’s stopping you?”

As a budding psychologist/ sociologist, and as a member of society, I am truly curious.

Please, don’t call the local authorities or put me on 24 hour watch- this is purely educational.  I have no intention or desire to take my own life.

In advance: thank you for your input.


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Comment by Rick on August 29, 2011 at 10:24pm

 I view suicide to be a selfish act for often selfish reasons and have absolutely no respect for anyone that goes through with it… with only one exception: physician-assisted-suicide. Those who seek PAS often do so looking for a humane and dignified way to end extreme suffering. For those who say “Oh, woe is me, my life is not worth living,” I can offer neither sympathy nor respect.


Although, imposing my beliefs on others would be just as selfish.


As atheists, we believe that this is our one and only life. There are no second chances here or in an afterlife. I think the value of such a unique commodity would make for a valid reason to want to prevent suicide.

Comment by Unseen on August 29, 2011 at 10:35pm

I suppose in some sense it's "selfish" for someone in unbearable pain to want to end it.You don't seem to recognize cases like that. If someone is suffering from a terminal illness and it's extremely pain such that continuing to live is just torture, I can't view the person who wants to end that as being selfish. After all, we even put animals out of their misery. One can't end one's own misery?


At the same time, there's something conceptually and grammatically incorrect about referring to ending one's self as selfish. In a sense it's unselfish.


Here in Oregon people have the right to end their own life. Sometimes they do it quietly alone, but sometimes they invite friends and relatives to a sort of anti-birthday party.

Comment by Mike Donohoe on August 30, 2011 at 12:33am

I think there are some good reasons to exist in this life generally but I don't think there are any *objective* reasons for anyone to get out of bed in the morning. But then that which is objective is not good. Nor is it bad. It is devoid of any value whatsoever. Subjectively there can be valid reasons to cease to exist, depending on one's situation and perhaps even more on how one feels about it. Live in abject despair, pain, and poverty? Yet feel it is all worth it? Well, carry on then. It is unsettling, in a purely subjective sense mind you, to think of someone ending it all on a shabby premise, a bad day, a teenager losing their first love and being convinced that there shall never be another when realistically there could be.

Comment by ernie garcia on August 30, 2011 at 3:12am

speaking only for myself, i would argue that this is the only life that you have.  there is no evidence that there is any experience beyond it.  it would be a waste to give up something that countless others will never have for never being born.


having said that, i think people who are suffering greatly from terminal illnesses should have the right to end their own pain if all they are doing is prolonging their agony.   it's easy to be opposed to suicide when your life is not spent suffering with every moment.  there are people who experience this rather than a quick heart attack or a stroke, and they will not be given the right to do this. 



Comment by James on August 30, 2011 at 7:30am

I don't owe them a damn thing.  it's not like they care one way or the other anyway.


True, they won't know or care. But does that really matter? I'm still moral when no one is around, so why should my appreciation be dictated by whether or not the party I am benefiting from is aware/cares? Now, maybe it's just me... But I feel immensely lucky to have won the 'lottery of life', and feel that throwing away this amazing gift does disservice to it. Sure, a short life is better than no life at all, but we have this chance to live, and they don't. So i feel that we should make the most of this life that I'm sure that they would have enjoyed, had they been here in my place. But like I said, that's just me.

Comment by Doubting Thomas on August 30, 2011 at 8:10am

As someone who has suicide prevention training (I'm a police officer) I have been  lucky enough so far not have had to use it but many coworkers have. Suicide prevention never involves talk about religion or philosophy. You listen actively and if religion comes up you agree with whatever they say (basically). That being said reasons to stay alive differ from person to person usually but for me it is something the Japanese call Ichi e Ichi Go. It means one life, one chance. No matter how hard life gets there is no sense throwing my one chance to enjoy life and make a difference. If I am not enjoying life for whatever reason I know so long as I am alive there is still a chance I could.

Comment by Nathan Hevenstone on August 30, 2011 at 1:13pm

I used to be suicidal. I tried to kill myself 3 times in the space of one year.


And I honestly hate myself for that year.


I like to say that if who I am now knew who I was then, I would not be my friend. That is one of the many reasons.


My reasons were utterly selfish.


Truth is, I grew up in a great home. I had (and still have) amazing parents. It's true that I can't wait to move out... I'm 24, and I am legitimately way too old for some of the rules my dad imposes on me. But I love him, and my mom, dearly. And I'm convinced that, if I'd had a choice of parents, I would have chosen my mom and dad.


My brother was and is my best friend. He and I get along so well and we write good together. We're so different, too. But we can talk to each other without a problem. I miss him when he's not around, and have more fun than ever when he is.


But back then I hated my life. I had zero friends in school. Indeed... thanks my grade-school experiences, social situations are a phobia of mine. Everyone bullied me... and what's worse is, I didn't help the situation. I was a chronic, and very bad, liar. I liked to sing to myself in public, which was percieved as talking to myself, and I would sometimes vocalize my thoughts. I was a strange kid who basically asked to be bullied. And for this reason I wanted to kill myself.




This experience has influenced my thoughts on suicide today. I think it depends on the reasons. If they are horribly sick and/or in chronic pain, and this is causing so much stress on them and their loved ones, from emotional stress to economic stress, and ending their lives would just be easier for everyone, then we have a duty to provide them with the cleanest, easiest, and, yes, most hygienic way of doing it. We have a duty to bring them to doctors who will assist them.


However, if they're like me and can't handle "teenage angst", then we have every duty to stop them. I was a selfish little brat and I will never, ever stop thanking my dad for making me realize how selfish I was being. On my 3rd try he was very tough, basically locking me in my room for a week. And for a month I hated him and wouldn't talk to him. But if he hadn't done that, I wouldn't be here today, all for no legitimate reason.


"Woe is me" is not a legitimate reason for suicide, and I have zero respect for people who want to commit suicide for that reason, including myself, and even less for those who actually succeed.

Comment by TFranco on August 30, 2011 at 2:22pm

I feel that everyone has the right to choose when they want to die. People who attempt/commit suicide are deeply tortured and have the right to relieve themselves from the pain. That being said, there needs to be an emphasis on how deeply death by suicide affects every single person involved in their lives. 


I have dealt with a suicide from someone very close to me. It changed my life and my family forever. It was difficult because there is a lot of guilt and questions and blame. Anyone considering suicide as a relief from pain should seek help first and foremost from family and loved ones. Leaving that pain behind is scarring. 


From what happened in my family, I had only heard a religious argument once surprisingly enough. An old friend of mine said 'its a shame you'll never see her again because she's not going to Heaven for what she did and you don't believe in it'. Other than that, there has been little religious commentary on the death. 

Comment by Lewis Smith on August 30, 2011 at 4:57pm

#1 - I think suicide should be allowed. A person shouldn't be forced to live when they don't want to. (Thrown in a mental institution, guilted into living, threatened with hell fire or being dishonored when they're dead, etc.) I think a person should have the freedom to end their life if they choose to.

#2 - Suicide can have negative effects on society, it may be removing one able bodied hard worker from this world. Obviously it will hurt the people close to them emotionally, and it may effect how much they contribute to society.

#3 - Therefore, it's practical to try preventing suicide, convincing a person to try alternatives such as counseling, medication, offering them options and hope, teaching coping skills, showing love and support, etc.

Comment by Unseen on August 30, 2011 at 6:04pm

You should take a look at Oregon's Death With Dignity concept.


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